If there is a truffle heaven, then my daughter and I are seated at the banquet table in one of its palaces. We are enjoying the shade of its canopied terrace with a view of the terracotta rooftops of Gubbio, a medieval hilltown in Umbria. Ristorante alla Balestra provides the magic. Twenty years ago when a local restaurant was closing, present owners Marco and Gialla had the foresight to purchase it and turn it into what soon became and remains today a favorite with the local eugubini. The unsurpassed quality of their Umbrian cuisine – a cuisine that is exquisitely simple and wholly satisfying – is the reason why. Their truffle offerings put them right over the top.
The pumpkin-colored table linens and sleek putty-colored chairs blend well with the warm ancient stone of this centuries-old palazzo. Subtle beauty enfolds us. It is quiet as we embark on this truffle journey, led by the owner who chooses for us. A dish arrives, like a temple offering, holding a thin slice of pork with pear and caciotta cheese, crowned with delectable truffle shavings. Our panzanella is topped with a large prawn, Marco explains, “to far figura” and indeed we are impressed. This is followed by scrambled eggs with truffles. What do you call an antipasto that follows an antipasto? Divine!
Our banquet in paradiso continues with a sampling of umbricelli alla norcina al tartufo – thick hand-made noodles bathed in a cream sauce of sausage, porcini and truffles followed by a tasting portion of tagliatelle con sugo d’oca (duck sauce). In Umbria, pork is king and it reigns here prepared in a reduced Rubesco wine sauce with red onion from Cannara. Our wine? A DOC Grechetto from Vigna di Clara.
We were wise to have Marco guide us through the this multi-course meal. If we had looked at their menu, truly we would never have been able to decide. La Balestra, by the way, means cross-bow or catapult. It might take a catapult to remove us from this table.